For the second day in a row, an F-117 Nighthawk was spotted zipping low in Death Valley.
Earlier today we have posted some cool shots of an F-117 Nighthawk flying very low over the flats in beautiful Panamint Valley in Death Valley National Park. Those photographs were taken on Tuesday, February 26, 2019.
Today, February 27, the same (or another) F-117 stealth jet flew again very low over Death Valley. However, this time, the iconic jet was filmed as it overflew a lucky bystander.
Here’s the video posted on Instagram by our friends at AirshowStuff.
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The F-117 LIVES!!! Friend of AirshowStuff Wayne Day just shared some awesome new video from Death Valley earlier today 2-27-19. They’ve been quite active lately. Please make sure to give credit if sharing! @combat_learjet @pilotstuff #f117 #stealthfighter #stealth #deathvalley #airshow #airshowstuff #stillkicking
As reported in this detailed story:
[… ] in the last few years we have documented the flights of some F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Jets over Nevada, missions that have continued to be carried out well after the aircraft was officially retired from active service in 2008.
Back in 2014, after a few videos and photographs had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force admitted that the Black Jet was kept in a “Type 1000” storage at Tonopah Test Range (TTR) which meant that the type is to be maintained until called into active service: the U.S. considered the F-117 somehow useful in a current scenario, so much so they continued to fly some of the preserved jets every now and then, in plain sight, to keep the pilots (according to most sources, not U.S. Air Force aircrews but Lockheed Martin/contractor pilots) current and the aircraft airworthy and ready. Desert conditions of Nevada are perfect for maintaining the stealth jets in pristine conditions (due to the low level of humidity and hence, lower probability of corrosion), hence the reason to operate the enigmatic aircraft from TTR.
In July 2016, we published a video showing two F-117s flying together, filmed from the distant hills east of Tonopah Test Range: in examining the photos some readers noticed that when the two F-117’s were lined up on the runway, only one of them had what looked like a comms antenna extended on the dorsal spine. The other Nighthawk behind him did not have that. A new antenna? For doing what? A remotely controlled F-117? Hard to say because of the quality of the shot.
Then, in 2017, the U.S. Air Force announced the decision to retire the fleet permanently, once and for all. In fact, “in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, passed Dec. 23, 2017 the Air Force will remove four F-117s every year to fully divest them — a process known as demilitarizing aircraft,” wrote Oriana Pawlyk last year. According to Pawlyk, one F-117 was scheduled to be divested this year and approximately four every year thereafter.
However, another few sightings were reported since then:
On Nov. 13, 2017, an F-117 was spotted on a trailer on US-95, south of Creech AFB, in southern Nevada: the sighting was consistent with the plan of divesting one F-117 by the end of 2017; the rest to be withdrawn from use at a rate of four every year, beginning in 2018. In other words, the one under tarp on a trailer was probably being transferred to the boneyard, to be scrapped or prepared for a museum. Then, in a fantast twist, on the following day, Nov. 14, 2017, at 09.20AM LT, another F-117 was spotted flying north of Rachel, Nevada chased by a Groom Lake’s two-seater F-16 (most probably the one that later paid visit to Star Wars Canyon).
More recently, on Jul. 26, 2018, Youtube user “pdgls” films two F-117 flying again at Tonopah Test Range. The video shows two F-117s taking off in sequence as Night (or Knight – 9th FS callsign) 17 and 19. The shape of the Black Jet can be clearly identified as it maneuvers over TTR. Here‘s both the video and audio of the two Nighthawks.
Here’s what this author wrote about the last sighting last year. It’s still valid today, even though we can’t rule out some contractor pilots are simply enjoying the last few flying hours of the remaining F-117s:
Needless to say, the reason for the F-117 flights remains a mystery. Whilst the pretty basic pattern activity carried out by Night 19 is coherent with a periodic flight required to maintain currencies and airworthiness certificates, the seemingly more complex stuff conducted by Night 17 after it changed callsign to Dagger 17 seems to suggest there is some more interesting work for Black Jet. Indeed, as often explained here at The Aviationist, although it is a “legacy” radar-evading aircraft, the F-117 can still be used to support a wide variety of tests and developments: new radar or Infra Red Search and Track systems, new SAM (surface to air missiles) batteries, new RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) and coatings; or even 6th generation combat planes and next generation AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platforms. They might be supporting stealth UCAVs (unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) research and, as explained above, someone has also speculated some have been converted into drones. Moreover, we can’t completely rule out the possibility Nighthawk are used as adversaries/aggressors against real or simulated systems, if not within the context of a Red Flag (the audio you can hear above, from the beginning to 04:30 hours, was recorded during Red Flag on Jul. 25, although the activity is probably completely unrelated to the F-117 sorties) as part of complex LVC (Live Virtual Constructive) scenarios, where actual assets are mixed up with virtual ones.